I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year from 2005 – 2006. I worked for UNDP-Afghanistan on ICT capacity building. While I was living in Afghanistan and when I returned to the United States, many people would ask me questions about my experience living in a Muslim country: Did you wear a head scarf, Did you wear a burqa?, What does it feel like to wear a burqa?, etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions, and about the notion of public versus private space. I’d like to recreate this burqa wearing experience for people who don’t know what it feels like to wear a veil or full-body covering. I’m interested in the technical concept of full-body immersion and motion-based virtual worlds, and I’d like to explore this challenge for my physical computing final project. This is a popular topic on the tech scene right now, what with Microsoft releasing the Kinect for the XBox 360 and the recent hacks that have appeared, like the Adafruit ‘Open Kinect’ contest.

What’s it like to wear a burqa? What does it feel like underneath the veil? How do you see the world through the burqa?

Afghan women in burqas

In this provocative, full-body immersion installation, you can experience burqa wearing first-hand, see the world through veiled eyes, and discover what it feels like to move through scenery with a full-body covering. The burqa is an enveloping outer garmet worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies and faces in public places. The full Afghan burqa covers the wearer’s entire face, except for a small region about the eyes, which is covered by a concealing net of fabric. This experience is intended to give you a glimpse of what it feels like to be enclosed underneath the burqa, to stimulate thinking around gender roles and the cultural practices of wearing certain attire, and the juxtaposition between the private and public space.

Person puts on burqa, and steps from inside door frame to “outside” world. The outside world is projected onto a wall / screen (maybe 8 x 8 feet). Use photos / videos of Kabul, Afghanistan street scenes – possibly audio as well. When outside of the door frame, person stands on pressure sensor mat. The person controls how fast he/she moves through the scenery by how fast he/she walks in place on the mat. The person controls his/her movement through the scenes by moving his/her head back and forth to “turn”, which is detected by a 3-axis gyroscope. Head or body movement could also possibly control change in scenery.

Underneath The Burqa sketch

Floor mat (two pieces of thin wood, 2-4 FSR sensors, two pieces of dense foam)
Wii motion plus controller (3-axis gyroscope)
Door frame built from wood

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